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MENA as Carceral States II

Panel II-19, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Thursday, November 2 at 5:30 pm

Panel Description
The prison proliferates authoritarian control in MENA countries. Despite the salience of this carceral control, understanding MENA countries as ‘carceral states’ is still lacking in the literature. Differing in their level of development, institutionalization, and the dynamism of crackdowns and resilience, we posit that there is a throughline to these dynamics. Prisons throughout the Middle East and North Africa serve a central role in the state’s organization of political, social, cultural and religious life through its disciplinary power. The carceral experience, however, is as generative as it is disciplinary. We are interested in questions that examine state carceral practices, subjectivities and subjectification of the prison population, gender and sexuality in prisons, religious practices, medicalization and psychologization of prison communities – as well as the historical origins of these practices and their transnationalization. Furthermore, we seek to understand how the incarcerated (and formerly incarcerated) contend with, resist, and are influenced by these experiences. Overall, what can prison and prisoners tell us about the authoritarian state(s) in question.
International Relations/Affairs
Political Science
Religious Studies/Theology
  • Abdullah Alaoudh -- Presenter
  • Dr. Smadar Ben-Natan -- Organizer, Presenter
  • Mr. Saif Alislam Eid -- Presenter
  • Walaa Quisay -- Organizer, Discussant, Chair
  • Insiya Raja -- Presenter
  • Enis Demirer -- Presenter
  • Mr. Saif Alislam Eid
    In the aftermath of the July 3, 2013, coup in Egypt and Rabaa massacre, human rights organizations have reported an estimated 60,000 political detainees. While detailed estimated of the demographics of detainees are unavailable, given the nature of protests and arrests, many of those detained were taken from university campuses and protests followed Rabaa Massacre. This paper aims to study the right to education in Egyptian prisons between 2013-2022. The paper tracks the developments of both regime policies and practices across several prisons. Educational policies are particularly relevant to understanding the continuities and discontinuities of authoritarian practices after critical junctures. I argue that continued studenthood is a form of resistance. To do so, I conduct a series of interviews with 20 former detainees and explore their lived experiences in navigating both the defacto and dejure realities of Egypt’s carceral state.
  • Enis Demirer
    My paper questions what kinds of practices of survival and solidarity emerged under the circumstances of sexualized police violence that had been arbitrarily targeting queer communities in Istanbul, Turkey on the basis of their gender and sexual identity in a period that extends from the 1970s to the 1990s. The argument of my paper is twofold. First, it argues for focusing on the violent practices of arbitrary detention as those that are generative of various proximities that can ultimately work to destabilize their purpose of regulating and controlling the bodies that they deem to capture and keep under surveillance. In order to pursue this argument, I suggest seeing the sexualized violence of the police as pornographic while contrasting it to the various practices of collective defiance on the part of the queer detainees, which I read as erotic practices borrowing from Audre Lorde. Following from there, my paper also suggests that the experience of perpetual and arbitrary carceral police violence targeting the queer communities of Istanbul in the named period has been formative of emergent modes of queer sociality and solidarity, that became fundamental to the LGBTI+ organizing and culture in Turkey in the following decades. To pursue these arguments I borrow from oral historical accounts as well as from cultural texts. The oral historical component comes from the recorded testimonies of trans women and gay men who had been subjected to perpetual police violence at the once notorious detention center called the Sansaryan Inn in the1970s and 80s. These testimonies have been collected in a 2012 book titled Being Queer in the 80s. They are invaluable for their descriptions of the sexualized practices of police violence under detention, as well as for the hints they provide about the emergent and queer forms of solidarity and survival. To complement them, I borrow from a 1994 film titled The Night, Angel, and our Gang, which recounts the story of queer life in Istanbul in the 1990s as a perpetual game of hide-and-seek with the police. I read examples from the film as powerfully expressive of the erotics of survival I formulate in the paper. Overall, the paper suggests a shift of focus regarding the experience of carceral violence towards the perspective of the violated as it is expressive not (only) of victimization but more importantly of an erotics of survival and regeneration.
  • Abdullah Alaoudh
    Abstract: In the paper, I will show how prison literature is presented in contemporary Islamic writings in Saudi Arabia within the informal Islamic education of halaqahs and learning circles in mosques. The paper will also study the impact of this literature on the Islamic thinking and literature in the country in the aftermath of Arab Spring (post-2011). Only three months after the Saudi crown prince Muhammed bin Salman (MBS) came to power in June 2017, he started one of the largest waves of arrests in the country. On the top of the detainees in this September 2017 crackdown were prominent Muslim scholars like Salman Alodah, Awadh al-Qarni and Ali Alomari. Many of them had been arrested before and some of them authored poems or even books in prison. The Muslim scholars’ entanglement with the state is not new and because of it, I argue that it has affected the thinking, theology, and writings of contemporary Muslim scholars in Saudi Arabia with the example of post-2011 writings in the country. Growing up in Islamic learning circles and halaqas in Saudi Arabia, an unmistakable theme is the struggle of scholars and jurists and the plight they alway face from rulers and sultans in the Islamic history and from dictators and ruling elites in the present. Having trained in “classical” Islamic education Islamic scholars and jurists present incarceration as the classical form of this troubled relationship. Saudi (legally-trained) scholars and Muslims thinkers showed this expected crisis with their government in their writings and it even affected their jurisprudence and literature. The impact is, on one hand, positive by learning how to survive and protect their doctrine and, on the other hand, is negative by being intellectually imprisoned in this troubled relationship with the state and failing to theorise or think beyond this disconcerting relationship. In this paper I will discuss how prison literature is presented in contemporary Islamic writings in Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Arab Spring revolutions (post-2011). I will argue that prison affected Islamic thinking and literature in the country.
  • Dr. Smadar Ben-Natan
    This paper traces a paradigm shift in Israeli carceral policies toward Palestinian political prisoners, offering a new theoretical framework of the carceral state in conflict. Non-democratic, illiberal and hybrid regimes typically use incarceration to suppress political resistance and opposition in contexts such as liberation and anti-colonial struggles, civil war, civil unrest and protests, or to suppress racial, ethnic and class conflicts. Current literature on political prisoners is dominated by a framework of state oppression and prisoners’ resistance. The oppression-resistance framework treats the state and the prisoners as constant opposites who struggle from a distance over control and political power. Conversely, I offer a relational approach that treats prisons as sites of encounter, where prisoners, prison staff, professionals, and government officials interact and negotiate. The resulting dynamics of change in carceral policies and prisoners' organization are all tightly connected to the politics of conflict. Ever since the occupation of 1967, Israel has mass-arrested Palestinians and transferred them into Israeli prisons. The year 2000 was a watershed moment when the “Oslo Process” peace negotiations failed, and the second intifada broke out. It also marked a paradigm shift in Israeli carceral policies, driven by Israel’s new position that there was “no partner for peace.” Before 2000, Palestinian prisoners used encounters with Israeli prisoners, professionals, and prison staff, as well as in-prison and academic education – all allowed for by carceral policies – to develop an intimate knowledge of Israeli society and politics. Subsequently, the Palestinian prisoners’ movement became instrumental in reconciliation processes leading to the Oslo Accords. However, following 2000, new carceral policies shrunk spaces for encounters, minimized prisoners’ communications with the outside, banned individual education and rehabilitation, all while seeking open conflict with the collective prisoners’ body. This new “state-induced radicalization” sought to maintain prisoners as dangerous enemies to justify the protracted conflict. Thus, I argue that carceral policies and prisoners’ agency are shaped by in-prison encounters and political agendas that could either encourage reconciliation or foster radicalization. Going beyond oppression and resistance, reconciliation and radicalization are alternative carceral paradigms that are formed through encounters and can be pursued both by prisoners and by the state. This framework highlighting the potential role of prisoners in transitional justice and reconciliation, as well as the potential role of the state in conflict escalation and radicalization.
  • Insiya Raja
    Egypt's current regime uses political imprisonment systematically as a mechanism of control to gain information, control bodies and voices, and crack down on dissent. This research aims to provide an understanding of the underlying institutional architecture fundamental to the current regime's functioning, legitimacy, and stability. Furthermore, perfecting Bentham's Panopticon, the new prison complex in Egypt, which is part of the new regime's modernizing narrative, Badr serves as a window into the strategies of the current government in perfecting the system of political imprisonment as a mechanism of social control. Since a single approach cannot sufficiently explain the various iterations in the phenomenon of illiberal practices carried out by the current government, this research unifies various theoretical frameworks and analytical tools in both sociology and political science to gain insights into how violations of personal integrity, such as torture, police violence, sexual violence, intimidation, and incarceration, are used as methods of containing political dissent. To assess practices, this research will adhere to a narrow and restrictive definition similar to one adopted by the Convention Against Torture (CAT), which includes the frequency, similarity of circumstances, the purpose behind abuse, and similarity in methods employed, i.e., practices are systemic which are habitual, widespread, and deliberate. The number of victims, duration, and existence of government policy are also indicators of systemic violation. By explicating the context and other factors that add to their gravity, this research will show how all the violations discussed and highlighted by the various NGOs in Egypt's context should be considered serious and serve as a framework for guiding both academics and researchers into the entrenchment of repression under the current Egyptian government.